I had dinner recently with my friend, a visionary, dynamic, nationally known leader in the area of diversity and inclusion. We’ve worked closely together in the past but hadn’t seen each other for a couple of years.
We sat looking at the New York skyline and caught up on the basics—family, work, the economy. He beamed with pride when he told me about his young grandson, the big apple of his grandfather’s eye. His grandson, 4, is already using computers, tablets and other devices to read, learn, communicate and entertain himself.
Then we started talking shop. My friend is charged with building a global human resources strategy for a world renowned firm.
We’ve always had vigorous debates and neither one of us backs down. We agree on a lot and disagree agreeably. He told me about advances his firm is making in learning: There are now multiple delivery platforms that can give leaders information on any topic.
They can see learning modules on how to hire and engage new employees; there are avatars that can be readily adapted to simulate situations in different nations and cultures where the themes are the same but the settings, accents and demographics of the learners are different.
He has always been able to see into the future and told me this way of learning is the next wave hitting our workplace shores now. He’s right. We get knowledge now like air—it’s everywhere, and we expect it to be just as accessible.
There are multiple apps for learning and completing just about every task. I’ve been learning this firsthand on my iPad and iPhone.
But then a thought hit me. My good friend is right, but there is something missing. As I have written elsewhere, the learning is useful only if it is important to the learner and, for some of our toughest lessons, who delivers the lesson is the key.
As we watched the sun set, I asked my friend, “Tell me, what apps are you going to use to teach your grandson to be kind, ethical, decent and honorable, just like you? Where are you going to find the app for that?”
He paused. He looked me dead in the eye. What he said hit the mark: “I’m the app. That’s my job. I am the app.”
And that’s the point. Some lessons, especially those dealing with how we act and apply values, have to be delivered by the right instructor; the “learning” platform must be direct, human and credible.
There’s no technology, no interactivity and no clever avatar that can replace the power of a grandfather saying to his grandchild: This is important. I want you to remember this. Here’s a lesson you’ve got to learn to live and work by.
One of our strategic challenges is to figure out which lessons must be delivered like this to have a lasting impact. That’s not the same question as asking, “What’s the most rapidly deployed or immediately accessible way to transmit information via the latest technologies?”
Sometimes, like my friend, we as leaders must say, “I am going to deliver the messages that matter.” There will be constantly developing new ways to reinforce these messages.
We will and must use them. But some lessons have to come from me, or us, in real time first, to be heard, understood and applied. For those vital lessons, I’m the app.